Busting Brackets Preseason Top 25 Poll, A Gauge of Where Teams Stand NOW

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Please note: These rankings, unlike most preseason polls, gauge where each teams currently stands relative to the competition and does not assume a best-case scenario for schools with loaded incoming freshman classes. For the sake of an objective and, as best we can, accurate poll, Busting Brackets evaluates the freshmen (and all players, for that matter) on the basis of how they’re likely perform in Week One, not in March. As such, younger teams with high ceilings (Kentucky, UCLA, Arizona, North Carolina, among others) are not as high in the preseason poll as we expect them to be by the end of the year.

RELATED: Why Preseason Polls are done horribly wrong

1

 
Indiana

IU returns all five starters from last year’s Sweet 16 team, including the NPOY frontrunner (Cody Zeller). The emergence of freshman point guard Yogi Ferrell could turn this consensus No. 1 team into a runaway title favorite. That is, if there’s a renewed commitment to defense in Bloomington.

2


Louisville

No team in the Top 10 has a weakness more glaring than Louisville’s dreadful outside shooting. Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith, the lone two reliable 3-point shooters on last year’s team, are gone. Will Russ Smith and George Mason transfer Luke Hancock be enough from the perimeter? The Cardinals defense is superlative, the talent at forward is in place and the point guard-center combo is the best in college hoops, but tread carefully with this group. It could disappoint.

3


N.C. State

Seems awfully high for a team that squeaked into the tournament last season. And it is. But don’t judge State, which returns four starters and two preseason ACC POY candidates (Lorenzo Brown and C.J. Leslie) on what it was at the beginning of last season. Appreciate instead how much the team grew, and consider just how much better it can get with a strong recruiting class in tow.

4


Ohio State

The Buckeyes will not be overly reliant on freshmen like Kentucky or UCLA, but their season hinges on a talented, sophomore quartet no less inexperienced. DeShaun Thomas will bring the scoring, Aaron Craft the defense and Lenzelle Smith Jr. a little bit of everything. But what will Sam Thompson, Amir Williams, Shannon Scott and LaQuinton Ross add? For Ohio State’s Final Four hopes, it better be a lot.

5


Duke

Assuming Seth Curry is healthy, expect Duke to be more like the team that overachieved last regular season than the one that underachieved [dearly] in March. The Blue Devils have the frontcourt assets to make a Final Four, but will their guards give them enough touches? Can the perimeter defense hold up with the undersized Curry playing the 2 and the dearth of lateral quickness in the starting backcourt? Don’t sleep on Quinn Cook. As long as he’s not napping on D, he has an awfully bright future.

6


Michigan State

Don’t be quick to crown the Wolverines as the beat team in Michigan. There’s no time to mourn in the post-Draymond era for Tom Izzo’s team. Despite losing the program’s all-time leading rebounder—the jack-of-all trades forward—in addition to Brandon Wood, the team’s most efficient offensive guard, Sparty has the weapons in place to reload quickly. Keith Appling now owns the keys to the car in East Lansing while rising star Branden Dawson looks to move upfront from his backseat spot last season.

7


Syracuse

Losing the top four players from the team before is usually an NIT sentence for non-blueblood schools with sights set on the Big Dance. Not for Syracuse. Riding the strongest recruiting surge in program history, SU is armed with enough talent to compete for a conference crown. The Orange owned the best bench in college hoops last season, a unit superior to some starting-fives at high major schools. With three starters lost and the top sixth man in college basketball gone as well, that heralded SU bench from last year will strut its talent in a starting capacity. Look for Michael-Carter Williams and C.J. Fair to most take advantage.

8


UNLV

Mountain West coaches tabbed San Diego State as the preseason conference favorite, which is reasonable given the top-level talent the program returns. But let’s be clear: UNLV, even before you weigh the potential of super-freshman Anthony Bennett, owns the best roster in the league. How do you offset the loss of 3-point machine Chace Stanback? You replace him with one of the top shooters in high school basketball (Katin Reinhardt), then you bring back the top point guard (Anthony Marshall) and forward (Mike Moser)—who returns to Vegas with a chip on his shoulder, having passed up the NBA to pursue a national championship—in the league. Round out the frontcourt with Bennett, a top-ten prospect, and coveted Pitt transfer Khem Birch, and the Rebels should be off and runnin’. A preseason No. 8 ranking may be a bit high for UNLV considering Birch isn’t eligible until January, but we’re confident UNLV can hold down a Top 10 spot in the meantime.

9


Kentucky

This year’s freshman class is not as strong as last, but the goal remains the same in Lexington. Nerlens Noel is getting all the attention, but Willie Cauley-Stein has been Big Blue’s biggest frontcourt jewel so far while Alex Poythress may be the best freshman of the lot. N.C. State transfer Ryan Harrow is locked and loaded at the point, and Coach Cal has another talent trove at his fingertips. Just let this new cast prove its worth before fawning over its potential. And for the team’s sake, avoid comparisons to last year at all costs.

10


Kansas

It’s difficult to rank a Bill Self team any lower in the preseason, regardless of the players lost from the season before. The Jayhawks are a cinch to play top-flight defense and have another skilled, veteran post player to build around. If Ben McLemore and Perry Ellis are as good as advertised and Elijah Johnson can get to the line, you won’t see this team lower than No. 10 all year, even without T-Rob and T-squared.

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